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Emotional Affairs

Emotional infidelity can harm marriage, researchers suggest

Tuesday, February 26, 2002
Peter Jensen
Baltimore Sun
Staying true
Here are 10 rules for avoiding emotional infidelity.

  1. Keep it all business in the office.
  2. Avoid meetings with members of the opposite sex outside the workplace.
  3. Meet in groups.
  4. Find polite ways of ending personal conversations.
  5. Take particular care not to have regular (perhaps daily or even weekly) conversations about your life outside work.
  6. Don't share your personal feelings.
  7. Be unflinchingly honest with yourself.
  8. Avoid cordial kisses and hugs, or dancing with members of the opposite sex.
  9. Don't drink in mixed company.
  10. Show your commitment to your spouse daily.

Are you a woman who shares secrets with a male friend? Are you the kind of man who reviews his weekend plans with a female co- worker? Or do you go out for drinks with a colleague of the opposite sex?

If you are married and answer yes to any of these questions, then therapist M. Gary Neuman has a word to describe your behavior: unfaithful. "We can't fool ourselves into believing that we can have intimate relationships at work and still have a great relationship at home," says Neuman. "My message is that if you want to infuse passion and have a buddy for the rest of your life, you have to keep that emotional content in your marriage."

Neuman, a Miami Beach, Fla., psychologist, has raised hackles in the marriage counseling field with his book, Emotional Infidelity, (Random House) that decries male- female friendships outside marriage as a form of adultery. While Neuman's views might seem extreme, even his critics say his central premise -- that friendships between members of the opposite sex can harm marriages -- is probably valid.

"It's a concern,'' says Shirley Glass, an Owings Mills, Md., psychologist and longtime researcher into marital infidelity. "Many love affairs begin just that way.'' According to a 1998 survey by researchers at the University of Chicago, about 25 percent of married men and 17 percent of married women in this country admit to having been unfaithful. Glass' research suggests it is probably closer to 25 percent of women and 40 to 50 percent of men.

How many married men and women might admit to an emotional infidelity? Probably 55 to 65 percent, she says, and she thinks the numbers are growing. Her definition of emotional infidelity is more cautious than Newman's. Glass thinks a friendship between members of the opposite sex must have three traits to be infidelity: emotional intimacy that is greater than that within the marriage, sexual tension and secrecy.

"Friendship becomes a problem when it becomes a replacement for a marriage or takes place outside a marriage,'' Glass says. A married father of five, Neuman, 37, believes society has underestimated how harmful these emotional infidelities can be. He has counseled too many couples not to have noticed that marriages suffer when men and women seek intimate relationships outside the home.

Even if the relationship doesn't escalate to sex, it can be debilitating to the marriage. "If you put the majority of your emotions in the hands of someone other than your spouse, you're still shortchanging your spouse,'' he says. Consider, he says, the husband who gripes about work with a female co-worker and then comes home and doesn't really want to repeat his complaints all over again with his wife; she is isolated from a significant part of his life. Or what about the wife who flirts with other men? Will she feel better or worse about her marriage when she compares their reaction to her husband's behavior? He might seem much less fun.

In his book, Neuman refers to research that shows it's where the majority of extramarital affairs get started -- perhaps as high as 73 percent, according to one study. He sees opportunities for inappropriate behavior behind every lunch, every trip for drinks after work and every business trip where men and women are thrust into prolonged social contact without their spouses. "We have hard and fast decisions to make,'' he says. "What's the most meaningful thing in your life? We can't fool ourselves into thinking we can have these intimate relationships at work and still have a great relationship at home.''

Neuman admits his views are unconventional. But in the three months since his book hit the stores, the volume of hate mail he has received has surprised him. Many of those letters are from women who angrily accuse him of condemning the presence of educated women in the workforce and rekindling a kind of Victorian attitude toward them.

Even Glass thinks he overstates the harmfulness of a friendship. "It's fine as long as it's not a replacement for marriage.''

Source: Baltimore Sun

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